Mark Henderson, Science Editor
Academy of Medical Sciences suggests urine tests
to detect smart drugs
Students may need to be tested for brain-boosting drugs as they become more widely used by healthy people in the future, an influential scientific body says today.
A report from the Academy of Medical Sciences says that cognition-enhancing drugs developed to treat conditions such as Alzheimer's, narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are increasingly likely to be used by the public to improve concentration, memory, alertness and learning.
While the academy's expert panel says that there is no justification for sweeping legislation on social use of these medicines, it adds that there would be a compelling case for “localised regulation” if they are proven to be safe and effective.
Sir Gabriel Horn, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University who chaired the panel, said: “The Government should work with interested bodies to consider local regulation around the workplace, schools and universities, and other places of that kind.
“When this becomes serious for education authorities, they may need to take steps. They could examine urine samples, for example.”
More formal laws may be required to prevent coercive use of such drugs, for example by parents or teachers who want their children to perform better at school, he added.
Les Iversen, a pharmacologist at Oxford University and a member of the panel, said: “If and when really effective drugs become available, and only rich people can afford them, they would have a grossly unfair advantage in exams.”
There is also anecdotal evidence that these medications are becoming popular among students and academics, who often buy them over the internet. Last month, the journal Nature found that one in five of 1,400 readers who responded to an online survey had tried cognitive enhancers.
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